A Journey of Sacrifice

“You will have to manage without pocket-handkerchiefs, and a good many other things, before you get to the journey’s end.” (*The Hobbit*, 35)

This is my favorite quote from J.R.R. Tolkien’s *The Hobbit*, because it communicates the very thing that makes an adventure great: sacrifice. Bilbo is suddenly presented with an opportunity for adventure. He’s used to living in a cozy hobbit-hole, with the comforts of home at his fingertips. Yet something deep within him prompts him to take the opportunity and go on a journey with companions who are practically strangers. He does not quite know what he’s getting into and he suspects there will be perils ahead, but he still chooses to go. Less than five minutes into the journey he remembers his pocket-handkerchief and wants to turn back. It is at this point that Dwalin, a no-nonsense dwarf, reminds Bilbo that if he wants to be a part of the adventure, he’s going to have to leave the comforts of home entirely behind him. Bilbo is reminded to anticipate sacrifice if he wants to get where he’s going.

I’m not going to say that the Christian life is like an adventure –after all, adventures are temporary. You return to the the comforts that you sacrificed once the adventure is over. The Christian life is not called the Christian adventure for a reason. It does not last for a few months and then come to an end. I will, however, say that this line from the Hobbit reminds me of the sort of sacrifice which Paul explains in Romans chapter 12. The Apostle writes:

> I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12.1-2)

Paul is instructing believers to seek a radical transformation. When he tells us to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, he means that we are no longer serving our flesh but giving ourselves to God. The world tells us it is okay to pursue our sinful desires. Paul is telling us to leave the world’s standards behind and change our mindset. If we want to be obedient we have to go all the way. We cannot be of Spirit with a mindset and a desire that is of the world. Yes, sacrificing our desires is uncomfortable and sometimes feels uncertain, but it is necessary if we want to get where we are going.

Returning to The Hobbit, it appears that Bilbo’s sacrifices actually improve him. Prior to his journey, he knew little of what happened beyond the borders of the Shire. He was content with his pipe, his food, and peace and quiet. He never had any need to exercise courage or push himself beyond his comfort zone. He learns with every step of the journey that there is more to him than he thought. He has a courage and strength within himself that brings him to confront incredible foes. In the end, he returns to the Shire as a changed Hobbit, with a beautiful story to tell.

It is okay if sacrifices scare you. You should feel a tinge of fear when you read the aforementioned line from The Hobbit, mostly because you can sense the risk and peril that is coming. You might feel a tinge of fear when you read Romans 12.1-2 as well. Saying no to a desire is painful. Christians know that they are on a life-long journey in which they will have to give up their desires. However, we can be comforted in the fact that as we make sacrifices we are being transformed and prepared for a future glory. Sacrifice is painful but necessary, frightening but transforming. As you strive to sacrifice the desires of the flesh, remember that you are on a journey in which you are becoming closer and closer to God. Not to mention, your journey ends with an eternity spent in his presence. With this hope in mind, press on in your journey of sacrifice.

The Desolation of Smaug

The Desolation of Smaug achieved a 74% on Rotten Tomatoes, a full 9% higher than its predecessor. Many reviews cite the faster pacing of the film as the reason for it’s success, and it is definitely faster…but is that a good thing?

loved An Unexpected JourneyI loved everything about it. And while I loved almost everything about Desolation, there are a couple things that still rankle. However, please note that while these are certainly annoying, the movie as a whole is certainly worthy of your time.  [SPOILERS]

What  sets these movies apart, what makes them more than just an adaptation of the book, is all the extra stuff. They take a sentence from the book and turn it into a full-fledged action scene, like with the rock giants from Journey. Or they tweak a section from the book to make a little more sense, or to fit it into the movie better, like turning the “Black Arrow” into a special type of weapon fired from what looks like a super-awesome anti-dragon ballista.  They turn tiny skirmishes into full-fledged battles, and they’re also not above outright fabricating plot.

This isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, it’s often a lot of fun, and without it, the movies certainly wouldn’t be as good.  The open tombs of the Nine are fantastic, the attack on Dol Goldur is phenomenal, and Gandalf’s battle against Sauron is freaking awesome.

But it can also backfire, which it does in the worst possible way in their treatment of Beorn. They take what was an incredible allusion to the enormity and scope of Middle-Earth, with room enough for all sorts of beings with no relation to the smaller story at hand…and they turn him into just one more piece of the puzzle. What’s worse, they do so in the clumsiest manner possible: By having him vomit out his entire back-story in a 3-5 minute monologue before being banished off-screen for the rest of the movie. Back to the story, everybody, let’s move it along!

It’s easy to see what they intended to do here: They wanted to make the story of The Hobbit larger, to encompass the entire world.  But what they actually achieved was to make the world of Middle Earth smaller. There is no room for anything that is not intimately connected with the immediate story, and that saddens me.

And then there are also a couple moments that make you wonder whether you’ve seen them before…and then you think, “Oh, yeah, of course I’ve seen this before.” Kili’s whole “Morgul blade” ordeal is by far the worst offender here, but there are others. The assistant to the Master of Laketown is obviously Grima Wormtongue’s long-lost brother, and Thranduil reminds me of nothing so much as an elven Denethor, with the same disregard for the bigger picture, but with even less excuse (how can an elf who lives for thousands of years focus on anything but the big picture!?).

And then,  there’s Tauriel the female elf, caught in a weird love triangle between Legolas and Kili. Look: I know they’re trying to personalize Kili a bit more, but was “love triangle with Legolas and Tuariel” really the only thing came to mind?  Also, she’s obviously going to die in the third movie, in an necessarily heart-wrenching fashion.

BUT, aside from those problems, the film is still really good.

From the haze-inducing forests of Mirkwood to the awe-inspiring halls of Erebor, they don’t miss a single beat when it comes to setting the appropriate scene. Mirkwood perfectly captures the feeling of a great forest slowly succumbing to corruption. The dwarves stumble their way through a drug-like haze, struggling to stay on the path, until they are overtaken first by spiders, then by the elves of Mirkwood.

Laketown is clearly the home of people who have set up more-or-less permanent residence on the lake…but the fundamental instability and grime means that Laketown can never be more than what it is right now.  The Master of Laketown is a caricature, but he’s a caricature in the book as well, and the caricature is well done.

And Erebor is absurdly huge. I kept on expecting Scrooge McDuck to show up to dive into the sea of coins, but even Scrooge’s fortune is dwarfed (pun NOT intended) by what we see in Erebor. But of course, the most impressive part of Erebor is Smaug the Magnificent, the Calamity of Calamities. No matter what I say, you’re not going to actually get how enormous he is, so I’m not going to waste time trying. But more impressive than his size is his real-ness. He has weight, and heft. He literally fills the room, and the dwarves can’t sneak past him so much as under him. I can’t recall a single moment where I thought, “Wow, that was some terrible CG.” In fact, it wasn’t until after the movie that I pondered the CG at all. It was that good.

And along the way, we’re beginning to get a much better sense of each dwarf as an individual. The party splits repeatedly, giving us a look at how the dwarves interact with each other in smaller groups, and this goes a long way.  We get a much better sense of who some of the individual dwarves are (especially Fili and Kili for some reason…). Of course, sometimes they do this badly. Like, “unnecessary love triangle with a character who doesn’t even exist in the books” badly. But for the most part it’s very well done.

And then, of course, there’re the action scenes. Let me be frank: These are the best action scenes that have ever been produced in a LoTR film. They’re absurd and so far over-the-top that <CLEVER ELF JOKE???>, but then again, The Hobbit has always been a little ridiculous. Let me give you a couple examples.

In The Two Towers, Legolas rides a shield down a staircase once. In Desolation, the orcs don’t carry shields, so Legolas just shrugs and uses the body of an orc to skateboard down a staircase not once, but twice in one scene. He shoots several orcs while careening down the river and standing on the heads of two of the dwarves. But the highest kill count almost certainly belongs to Bombur, who now has to register any barrel in his possession as a deadly weapon.

In closing, I unfortunately can’t endorse this as unhesitatingly as I did An Unexpected Journey. There are just too many weird things going on, too many fumbled opportunities, for me to give it an unequivocal 5 stars. But it’s a solid four, maybe even a four and a half, and you should definitely see it.


Weekly Roundup

UPDATE:  In case you missed it, Vladimir Putin recently wrote an op-ed for the New York Times in which he offers counsel to the United States.  Yesterday “President Obama” responded with his own op-ed for the Huffington Post


Katelyn Beaty writes at Christianity Today about our Hunger for Outrage (specifically on the internet):

Outrage begins to eat us alive when it is not channeled into creative love. It does not produce the righteousness we rightly seek (James 1:20). And there is only so much love you can demonstrate in 140 characters on a glowing screen.


Wednesday was the twelfth anniversary of 9/11.  Here are 9 Things You Should Know About the 9/11 Attack Aftermath.


From National Journal:  Syria Tells You Everything You Need to Know About Barack Obama.


Peggy Noonan at The Wall Street Journal on Syria and Why America is Saying ‘No’:  “There is something going on here, a new distance between DC and America that the Syria debate has forced into focus.”


Our fearless leader James Arnold has written an article for Biola University’s Center for Christianity, Culture and the Arts on Giving Grace to “Crossover” Artists.


John Mark Reynolds responds to a friend’s question about Vocation and Money.


Digital Times argues that Part 2 of the Hobbit trilogy will be better than part 1 (but not by much).  The article is short, snarky and repetitive, so here’s the only paragraph you really need to read:

No, seriously. “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” is going to be the best part because hello, all the best stuff happens in it. “The Hobbit” Part Three-ie (out on December 17, 2014) is going to be the worst snooze cruise since Helm’s Deep. That’s because certain dragons are going to get whacked in the first of many hours and the rest is just going to be a big battle and then a long walk home.


Speaking of The Hobbit, here is JRR Tolkien singing “Chip The Glasses And Crack The Plates”:


One should always be careful about giving too much weight to “scientific journalism.”  Still, these developments are worth noting:  Global warming? No, actually we’re cooling, claim scientists.


Love it or hate it, the very colorful (and very plastic) new iPhone 5c is probably here to stay:  Forget “Cheap”, The iPhone 5c Is Clearly The iPhone Jony Ive Wanted For iOS 7.


Book nerds, time to geek out!  “Harry Potter” Gets Seven New Illustrated Covers.


From The Atlantic:  Why Sequels Will Never Die: Hollywood’s Summer of ‘Flops’ Was Actually Its Best Year Ever.


Mali, Syria, Obamacare, Detroit;  2013 has seen many debacles…all of which Mitt Romney warned us about during his 2012 presidential campaign.  This recently prompted Buzzfeed to ask:  Was Mitt Romney Right About Everything?  (The truth, of course, is that this is not about Romney.  He was not a visionary or a genius.  He was just saying what conservatives have been saying since long before 2012).


If World War One Was a Bar Fight…


Help Kickstart World War III!  Why?  Because Obama: